Like the ouroboros, here is the tail of the Final Fantasy 7 Compilation, and the head of the Final Fantasy 7 story.
Let’s review the Final Fantasy 7 franchise. Final Fantasy 7 was a straight JRPG that redefined gaming and, incidentally, was pretty damn fun to play. Ehrgeiz wasn’t technically a FF7 game, but it featured almost the entire main cast, and eschewed all the trappings of a plot for a fighting game that amounted to “let’s have fun with these guys”. In a way, it was almost proto-Dissidia. Advent Children, meanwhile, was Ehrgeiz’s opposite, nonexistent gameplay in exchange for a reunion (ha!) special that focused primarily on Cloud’s various psychoses. Dirge of Cerberus was an action game with a plot, but both parts were severely lacking when stacked against Vincent’s debut game. And, starting before even Advent Children, there was Before Crisis, an episodic cell phone game featuring the Turks that never saw release in North America. Given I can only guess at its content, I’m forced to conclude that it was exactly as unnecessary as Final Fantasy 4: The After Years, though I’d love to be proven otherwise. Still, anything primarily staring Reno cannot, by definition, be any good.
It’s a personal bias, yes, but I always felt that the individual pieces of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 did not combine to form a Voltron that could face the robeast that was the original Final Fantasy 7. I’m not even that big of a fan of Final Fantasy 7 (on my general Final Fantasy rankings chart, it’s above anything from the NES, but I’d put 4, 6, 8, 12, and even 13 higher than 7. This is, again, completely subjective, so don’t think too hard about it), so it’s not like I’m putting the game on that high of a pedestal. But Advent Children was a popcorn flick about as substantial as kernels, and Dirge was a game roughly as fun as licking a fire poker (I speak from experience!). As an added bonus, both games “expanded the mythology” in a manner that seemed to only weaken the original Final Fantasy 7. So Sephiroth can just come back to life whenever he wants despite Cloud’s final cathartic omnislash? And there are somehow entire countries that we missed exploring back when AVALANCHE was touring? Great, now I just want a bigger, badder Final Fantasy 7, and not this parade of spinoffs.
Final Fantasy 7 Voltron needed something else. It needed its Blazing Sword. It needed Crisis Core.
Crisis Core is Zack’s story. Zack, you may recall, was little more than Cloud’s palette swap in the original Final Fantasy 7. While I don’t believe Zack appeared onscreen for very much of Final Fantasy 7’s original release (hey, who’s that in the picture?), FF7 NA included a few scenes of Cloud and Zack escaping from Hojo, and Zack… dying. Zack, ultimately, is the Uncle Ben to Cloud’s Spider-Man, so, right from jump street, there was no way Crisis Core would wrap up with a happy ending. Additionally, this forces Crisis Core into being a prequel, and thus cursed with all the problems that great men like George Lucas have never been able to overcome. Enjoy all these amazing characters achieving grand goals? Great! Now you get to watch them before they got anything done, and, by plot rules, will be incapable of accomplishing anything!
And, make no mistake, Crisis Core is burdened with some particularly groan-worthy retcons. Zack named the bar that would become Tifa’s Seventh Heaven. Aeris wears her signature pink outfit exclusively for Zack’s return. The Turks, and Tseng in particular, have a great interest in Aeris not only for Shinra, but also as a personal favor to Zack. And, most aggravating of all, Sephiroth is revealed to not be the only science experiment stalking the halls of SOLDIER, no, Sephiroth’s contemporaries, Angeal and Genesis were also pumped full of
midichlorians Jenova Cells, and at least one of those guys tried to destroy the world a good couple of years before Meteor was even a glimmer in the cosmos (the other one turned into a dog or something). On one hand, sure, it makes sense that there would be a few other “test cases” spawning from Hojo’s lab, but on the other hand, come on, way to weaken your scary, imposing, and, most of all, memorable big bad by just making him one of a batch.
But, despite all the prequel problems inherit to the story, Crisis Core seems to be the only worthy successor to the Final Fantasy 7 name within the compilation. And it’s not because it’s the first game to even try to simulate something like a “real” Final Fantasy 7 feel, it’s because it’s finally about something.
This, ultimately, is the secret to a good prequel. Far too many prequels (and, yes, Star Wars springs immediately to mind here) spend all their time carefully lining up the dominos for the actually good story. Here’s the Buster Sword, here’s exactly where it got its start, who owned it, and every enemy it bisected before it got to Cloud. Yes, that kind of thing is inevitably interesting to someone that already experienced the original story (and, incidentally, possibly spent a decade on Gamefaqs theorizing and debating unexplained gaps), but to someone that simply played Final Fantasy 7 and then called it a day and moved on to 1997’s other releases (or someone who didn’t play Final Fantasy 7 at all), it’s just rote plot filler. Woo, Warrior X is super attached to Sword Y, haven’t seen that before. No, what a prequel needs is a story of its own, and, more importantly, a theme of its own.
Except, my bad, Crisis Core doesn’t have a theme of its own.
Crisis Core is, much like its ancestor, completely obsessed with fate. We already know Sephiroth’s story, but, once again, here’s a man that discovers his origins, and then absolutely flips until Nibelheim is a smoking crater, and the planet is steered onto a similar path. Genesis, Sephiroth’s red-headed step brother, has a similarly destructive outlook on life, but believes his fate is being steered not by his genetic origins, but his literary origins. Yes, Genesis is, essentially, a malevolent English Major. Regardless of the source, both whackjobs endanger the entire planet because they’re convinced they’re meant to. Angeal is on the side of the angels (oh, I just got that), but he’s similarly shackled by duty and destiny. He’s the good guy because he (mostly) follows orders and looks out for his subordinates, but, still, he’s, in a manner of speaking, “just following orders”.
And then there’s Zack.
Zack is an actual SOLDIER 2nd Class at the start of the game (which, incidentally, means AVALANCHE likely would have slaughtered the guy had he never received a promotion), but eventually becomes an actual SOLDIER 1st Class to stand with the greats like legendary Black Trench Coat and easily forgotten Red Trench Coat. Zack spends most of his life following orders, not only during the plot, but also through a series of side missions that are assigned via Shrina and various other hangers-on. Zack, here’s a tip, when you’re taking orders from a pre-pubescent Yuffie, you’re maybe a little too obedient.
Eventually, Zack is betrayed by SOLDIER and Shinra, and he becomes a man on the run. But even when Zack is separated from the company and companions that have defined his life up to this point, he’s still following clearly defined, short-term “missions”. Protect a comatose Cloud. Stop Genesis from doing… whatever he’s doing. Empty every indistinct cave of every generic monster. You can take the boy out of SOLDIER, but you can’t take the SOLDIER out of the boy. Throughout it all, Zack seems to retain one overarching goal, and that’s to return to Aeris back in Midgar… a goal that is, yet again, in service to another person.
And, as we all know, Zack isn’t going to achieve everything on his bucket list. Despite eventually obtaining enough broken materia to take down a planetary goddess, Zack is still going to be gunned down by a trio of soldiers as Cloud looks on, because, without that event, there is no Final Fantasy 7. It’s a tragedy, you know what’s going to happen, and it becomes an echo of Aeris’s own fate in Final Fantasy 7 (unless you’re one of the twelve people on Earth that didn’t have that death spoiled by a FAQ, strategy guide, “well-meaning” friend, or me). Knowing Zack’s fate, every action, every life saved, every afternoon wasted punching ostriches has that much more meaning for a man with a death sentence. Maybe Zack completes every mission, maybe he just speeds through “his” story, but no matter the choices he makes, there’s no getting off the train Zack’s on, and his last stop isn’t Midgar Station, but a forgotten hill that will be seared into Cloud’s (repressed) memory.
So enjoy Crisis Core. Enjoy a game that, finally, at the end of the Compilation of Final Fantasy 7, remembers what Final Fantasy 7 was all about. It’s about fate. It’s about choices, both real and imaginary. It’s not about fights with hulking dragons or invincible WEAPONs, it’s not even about saving the planet. It’s about people, what they do, and what they try to do to make their lives better.
Crisis Core does what no other piece of Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 does: it makes Final Fantasy 7 better. And if you don’t want to play Final Fantasy 7 upon completing Crisis Core, well, then maybe you’re just a puppet without emotions.
FGC #180 Final Fantasy 7: Crisis Core
- System: PSP, and only PSP. I, however, will be shocked if we don’t see a Type 0-style HD remake of this game before at least one of the Final Fantasy 7 HD Episodes.
- Number of Players: One Zack. Wait, let me make sure someone didn’t try to shoe-horn in a 2-Player Mission mode or something… okay, yeah, just one player.
- Port Problems: Assuming Crisis Core does wind up on anything but a portable system, it will be a loss for the game. Crisis Core’s gameplay soars because it has about a thousand short, “meaningless” missions that are ideal for quick play sessions or while watching TV (or both). A Crisis Core that still basically requires all those bite-sized missions (for leveling, materia acquisition, etc), but must be played on the big screen during dedicated couch time would not be nearly as enjoyable.
- To be the very best: Yes, I 100% completed every mission in this game. It’s a testament to how good the gameplay in Crisis Core actually is, but it’s also a result of the PSP seeing practically zero software after its initial launch. But, once a year, Square Enix released a PSP game actually worthwhile (see also: Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Dissidia, and Final Fantasy 4 Complete [my “last” PSP game]), and I’d be damned before I let a system I purchased wallow in disuse. Work that battery, PSP!
- Barrett? No Barrett. Fine time to look at the start of Avalanche, but nooooope.
- Buster Blues: Much fuss throughout this plot is placed on the Buster Sword, what it means to its various owners, and how important it has been throughout the lead-up to Final Fantasy 7. The Buster Sword even originated with Angeal’s poor family saving up to purchase the iconic blade for their son… so it’s kind of a shame that it’s the absolute weakest sword Cloud can equip, and it’ll start soaking up inventory mildew five seconds out of Midgar.
- Did you know? Genesis survives this game, and is dragged past the good Final Fantasy 7 games to appear in the secret ending of Dirge of Cerberus as the reawaked “G”. This was supposed to be important and spooky and oh boy what is Genesis going to do next… but, nope, Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 ended chronologically with Dirge, so we won’t know what Red gets up to after awakening unless, I suppose, Final Fantasy 7 HD is a monster success worthy of new, original content. Sorry, Genesis, you’re loveless.
- Would I play again? Yes, despite complaints that a “TV Version” would suck all the fun out of the experience, it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll play whatever version of Crisis Core we see in the future. It’s a surprisingly good game (particularly compared to its contemporaries), and I wouldn’t mind seeing poor, doomed Zack ride again.
What’s next? Regular service resumes next week, and Random ROB has chosen… Splatoon for the WiiU! Time to get our squidly bits a-paintin’! Please look forward to it!